Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who gives a **** they're not rich......

Just read a commentry on Reuters that describes Afgahnistan as a "Narco-State." It seems that the state that the Western powers first offered to rebuild, the becon of success of George Bush's War on Terror, is now back to it's Pre-Taliban Status - a corrupt "Narco-State," the home to the world's largest producer of opium, the main ingredient of herion which is sold on the streets of major American and European cities. It seems that President Hamid Karazi, the man installed by NATO has played a major part in this situation. 

What exactly has gone wrong? Perhaps it was an obsession with Iraq. After the Western Powers provided the Northern Alliance with the necessary power to topple the Taliban (driving out Osama binladin and the Al-Qaeda Group), the Americans turned their obsession to Iraq. Instead of actually chasing Osama Bin Ladin in a part of the world where he actually happened to be, the neoCONS decided their manhoods could be better shown in fabricating evidence to mislead a nation into war - so Afganistan becaome something of a side show, one where the formerly loathed Taliban could make a come back.

While this certainly a statement of the obvious, the reasons for the resurgance of the drug trade are more deep seated. The neoCONS were awful and Un-American but you can't pin the resurgance of the drug trade in Afgahnistan entirely on them. - I believe that human nature is responsible - simply put - we've been at "War" on the illegal drugs trade for over 30-years and yet no country can claim to be truely successful at eradicating the trade. Even in super strict and well-policed Singapore (We hang for grass), we have drug addicts and if we have drug addicts, we clearly have drug pushers. 

Almost every nation and every legal code on the globe throws the book at using and dealing in illegal drugs. Policemen make their names by chasing down drug dealers and governments that are normally sensetive about the soverignty happily allow American gun ships to destroy their farm land - all in the name of eradicating the drug trade. Politicians become more electable when they declare how tough of the drug trade they will become - offering to build prisons works at the ballot box. Yet, if you look at the statistics on drug use (usually inaccurate because not every drug user admits to using or gets caught), the figures certainly have not gone down. 

Surely, there has to be a political leader, somewhere around here with the guts to realise that this war on drugs has not helped anyone, except the drug dealers and law enforcement agencies when they come to fight for their portion of tax payers money. What can be done here?

Personally, I think the only solution is to aknowledge that people who are using illegal drugs will use them and find ways to use them regardless of the laws we place around them. Surely, in this situation it's best to bring drug use out into the open, where rules against the harmful side effects can be enforced in a realistic manner. Look at alcohol - we know people will drink so we let them - we don't care what they drink as long as they don't become rowdies who make life miserable for the public and kill people when they drive. More importantly, alcohol and tobacoo are good money spinners for governments around the world. So, what is it about drugs like cocaine that make it necessary for us to make them illegal. - You can't claim that it's because its addictive and bad for you - so are cigaretts, alcohol and dare I say it - gambling.

We've tried nearly everything against the drug trade and yet it continues to flourish. So, why don't we just make it all legal and turn it into just another industry rather like alcohol and tobacoo?

I suspect it's because illegal businesses are too lucrative for everyone involved. If it's illegal, it's usually more expensive and more profits get into the pockets of the "Right" people. I guess its important for the economy of Southern Florida to have Cuban and Columbian drug dealers buy holiday homes. Nice South American and Asian groups do nice things for the economy in the West - I mean who else needs all those small arms lying around the place? Where would law enforcement agencies be if we started cutting the funds for enforcing anti-drug laws? - Out of a job and unable to do anything in the market economy.

Afgahnistan was a wonderful place, particularly during the Soviet Occupation. The Freedom Loving Mujahideen (friends of Osama) needed weapons and so they sold opium. They then paid cash for stinger missiles provided by the CIA - nobody realised that they'd turn them on the US of A but then again, in those days, who cared - Osama was our dude. 

When the solution is obvious - you got to ask why nobody is taking it on. Then you follow the trail of money and before you know it, you'll realise that our so called moral leaders are no better than the thugs they claim they are fighting against.  

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Problem with the Myths We Create

The Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire in recent days for the lifting of the excomunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, a British Bishop who is a known "Holocaust Denier." Bishop Williamson publically argues that 6-million Jews did not die in the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz and the figure Jews killed in the Second World War is closer to 400,000. Jewish Groups throughout the world are upset and the Pope has been accused of damaging Catholic-Jewish Relations so much to the extent that the Chief Rabbi of Israel has decided to cut ties with the Vatican.

What strikes me about this incident is the fact that the current Pope should be particularly sensetive to charges of anti-semetism and the serious implications that such charges bring. In his youth, the Pope had been a member of the Hitler Youth Movement (though an unenthusiastic one - believing that the tenennts of Nazism came into conflict with Catholicism) and as such had  first hand glance of the horrors of Nazism. This is a Pope, whom the Israeli Forign Minister had judged as being "will be especially commited to the uncompromising fight against Anti-Semetism," when he was first elected. So, why is this Pope now welcoming a known 'holocaust dennier,' back into the arms of the Catholic Church?

I can't read the Pope's mind and my 7-years of studying Christian Theology at Public School does not give me the privillege of claiming to be an expert on the workings of the Vatican. However, I like to believe the best in people - this Pope, I believe is making serious attempts at producing dialogues with other religions and sometimes dialogues can be messy and brutish. In September 2006, he caused allot fo controversy in the Muslim world when he quoted Byzantine Emperor Mauel II Paleologus - who accused the Prophet Mohamed of only spreeding evil. The Islamic world got very upset - the Pope was denounced as being "Anti-Islam," and yet this Anti-Islamic Pope prayed in Turkey's Blue Mosque and more importantly played an important role in the creation of the "The Catholic-Muslim Forum," which was held from November 4-6 2008. 

Is the Pope admitedly provocative action of reinstating Bishop Williamson a step in bringing Catholic-Jewish relations of a new level? I don't know - I think only time can tell. However, I hope it is. Hopefully this Pope's actions will allow both Jews and Gentiles to look at their relations in a more rational manner without the emotional bagage of past histories. This Pope is not "Anti-Israel." He has declared that the "destruction of Israel is the destruction of Christianity." So why is he lifting the excomunication of someone who is a known "Holocaust Denier." I suspect that what he hopes to bring the Nazi Holocaust into its proper context -namely to ensure that the Holocaust becomes a historical event that we examine, discuss and learn from rather than what it is - a religious taboo. 

I don't doubt that Jewish people have a reason to be upset when it comes to the Holocaust. Whether you believe 6 million or 2 million or 400,000 died, a crime against humanity was comitted. Hitler, in his book, Mein Kampf openly blames the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War 1 and it was clear that he had every intention of doing harm to the Jewish people who lived in Germany and Eastern Europe. I believe that humanity needs to keep up the fight to ensure that such a crime does not take place again.

Having said all of that, it puzzles me why the Holocaust against the victims of Nazism should be mythologised to an extent that it becomes a criminal offense in many European countries that pride themselves in having "Freedome of Speech" to even question the "Official" version of what happened. David Irvine went to jail for suggesting that the figure of Jews gassed in the chambers of Auschwitz was closer to 2 million rather than the stated 6 - he did not suggest that nobody died in the gas chambers and 2 million is still allot of people (Crime against humanity.) By contrast you never hear of anyone going to jail for suggesting that Mao might have been misjudged (Only killed a mere 50 million Chinese - same as the entire battlefield casualties of World War II) or that Stalin (Killed at least 40 million) was in actualy fact a kindly old uncle best beloved by his people. 

Mythologising the Holocaust to this extent is unhealthy. It makes a mockery of the values that people who faught against the Holocaust claim to stand for. For example, you cannot lecture the Muslim world on how they must understand that the importance of "Freedom of Speech" when they protest over cartoons that insult the Prophet Mohammed, when you would happily jail a man who questioned the exact figure of casualties in the chambers of Auschwitz. 

Secondly, it becomes something of an emotional crutch in the relations between nations. Europeans for example remain unable to have a logical dialogue with Israel because they're constantly reminded of their history against the Jewish people. When any American or European politician suggest they're concerned by Israel's actions in the Gaza strip, they'll be denounced for war crimes against Israel. This is unhealthy - modern Europe is not the Europe of the 1940s and has been a great force for peace and an ally of Israel and yet it remains unable to have an honest dialogue with Israel

Most importantly and ironically, mythologising events detracts from the value they posses. to society. When they become myths that are exempt from scrutiny, suddenly their credibility dissapears. What do you believe more?

Example A

q - How did you know 6 million people died?
a - I was told so

Example B

 q - How did you know 6 million people died?
a -  Because if you read xyz, look at exhibit erc etc etc. 

Everytime you confront an argument, you have two options. You can denounce it or you can accept it and provide evidence for your own argument. The problem with the first one is that denoucements can leave you open to the charges that you're views are based on blind faith rather than fact. On the other hand, if you have a better argument you should revel in it. 

Hopefully, once the the furor over the Pope's lifting of Bishop Williamson's excomunication is lifted, we can sit down and overcome our fear of presenting the case for one of the worst crimes against humanity in human history.....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Friends that You Make

My Favourite Young Politician is having a few thoughts about enlistment and I'm not sure if I've been helping by telling him that he'll meet "Real" (not well educated) people as opposed to the people approved by the PAP. I'm trying to give him encouragement and all I can tell him is that although the army is full of bureaucratic b***, it is the place where you meet the best friends you will ever meet. Needless to say, he does not believe me and I think he's not alone. My mother once expressed a bit of a dissapointment that I didn't seem to have a feeling for university the way I had for the army.

Perhaps my experiences and views of the army are clouded. Unlike my peers, I don't have "kampong" or "school"  experiences or friends in Singapore. My first real formative experiences in Singapore are in the army and so you might suggest that my views are clouded. Then, I think my batch was unusual in as much as we had to go through the tragedy of Swift Lion where we lost two people who had been part of our larger group. 

Having said all of that, I don't believe I'm wrong to suggests that the friendships you make in the army are probably the best that you will make in your life. With few notable exceptions, the people I met after that were usually fake in comparison and if I were to ask the people in my batch, I think most would agree with me. And if I look at the exceptions in my post military friendships, most of them have served their time in the military - most are from countries with a form of military service. 

I won't colour the military. Like most institutions, its filled with political crap. Unfortunately, Singapore's political leadership is also sensetive to the fact that we're a small nation in a region where military coups are the rule rather than the exception. As such military leaders with relevant experience and respect are subordinated to women and homosexuals who's only qualification is to push paper clips in the Ministry of Defence. 

Having said all of that about the Ministry of Defence, I think the realities on the ground are such that you end up finding out who your real friends are. I haven't done a psychological study on this, but I think it has something to do with the circumstances that you are placed in. This is especially true if you are in one of the arms that requires some form of team work. 

One of life's truisms is that prostiutes or at least the prostitutes mindset is not confined to the brothels of Geylang and similar areas. There's a saying that one should never ask a whore how one's manhood compares with others, particularly if business has just finished - she'll sing your praises even if you're as endowed as an ant. This fact is especially true when one carries the air of having money, power or both. A good proportion of people will find themselves doing their utmost to ingratiate themselves with you if they think you have any of mentioned attributes. A good proportion of those people are actually acomplished in the whore's art of singing your praises and it can go to your head rather easily. Before you know it, you start to believe God reports to you. 

But what happens when you are stripped of everything? How many of the people who once promised you the world actually stick around? The answer is shockingly few but the nice thing is that you discover that these are the people who care for you for being you rather than who you are. 

This is pretty much what happens in the army. To a certain extent, the powers that be try to segregate people into classes - A-level and Polytechnic students in one batch and O-levels and less in another. However, the faggots system is thankfully not fool proof. In my day, which was in the dark ages of the early 1990s, you still managed to get a good cross section of society in a batch.

Even with the White Horse System in place, the army had ability of reducing people to equality. Suddenly, when everyone is equal in the eyes of the institution, you get to see the character of a human being rather than meaningless illusions like education and social status. I think this is especially prevelant in the artillery and combat engineers where the basic functions require a group of men to function as a team rather than as brilliant individuals. Small detachments of grown men become close because ....well they cannot function otherwise if they are not. 

When unit life is relaxed, everyone is friendly and helpful. Then when you go on excercise and the excercise is tough, you'll find your friends pulling together with you despite their obvious fatigue and the dispicable suddenly giving up because they're tiered and unable to do what they need to do. I've had real friends and real leaders insist I report sick when I was on excercise. 

This is something many male Singaporeans should remember as the economic crisis deepens. Business partners and colleagues are buddies when there's plenty to go round - but when the goodies start to dry, you'll find many of the friends becoming less friendly and in fact down right nasty. This being Singapore, we actually saw a nice perversion of this fact of life in the Mini-Bond saga - Upper Middle Class folks who never bothered with the Chinese Educated Aunties and Uncles, suddenly found themselves rallying to them in order to gain public sympathy. 

I remember my army friends best because they knew me for who I was. It was never about who we'd become or who our parents were. We never looked at each other for what we could gain. Two of my clossest friends are from diverse backgrounds - one is the son of a fishmonger and the other the son of a plastics factory owner. We have never looked to each other for "gain," provided each other with needless advice and encouraged each other with the most genuine feelings from the heart. 

I personally hope this aspect of National Service endures. There's a growing effort to create classes in the system. You have "White Horses" and "Schoolar Platoons," which don't actually benefit anyone. Anyone who has seriously served the nation, will realise that REAL White Horses don't want to be exempted from the experiences of their peers but the system tells them they are different because of an accident of birth - hence the fag in MINDEF stunts someone who wants to contribute to society thinking he has achieved what is politically and socialogically desireable.  

My life has had allot of ups and downs. The highs have been pretty darn good but the downs have been all the more bearable because of the friends I've made - namely the people who have stuck by me because they've accepted me for who I am rather than what I am. 

As I've said, Geylang is not the only place where prostitutes hang out. One's environment daily environment is filled with people who relate to you in ways that would make the girls in Geylang blush. To a certain extent, you become a prostitute yourself because, hey, you need money to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. If you have any principles, you find that being a prostitute amongst prostitutes is very tiering and you need friends who see you for what you are and have feelings for you for being you. 

Without such friends, life is poorer. I pray that my young politician will experience life as it is rather than as his dellusions tell him it is, once he has enlisted. From this, he'll find the strength in the friendships of people who like him for who he is rather than what he can do for them. If he fails to find this in the army, our society would have failed him to giving him what's really important in life. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Got No Money...Don't Worry, Be Happy

Chinese New Year is coming in 48-hours time and so I thought I'd try and get any gloomy thoughts I might have out of my system this evening - a case of purging myself of awful luck and making sure I am somewhat happy for the New Year.

This is going to be a tough year for many around the world. Thanks to the sub-prime crisis in the US of A, banks have run out of money and businesses are jammed by their cash flow or lack of it. People are being slowly eased out of jobs and suddenly the thought of not having money for basic necessities, let alone luxuries has become a reality.

So, I guess that leaves me to blog about one of the few things I'm actually very experienced at being - broke and unemployed. I've been broke and unemployed for the better part of 8-years, that I am ironically, probably better off than my peers - I've always been too broke to hold a mortgage or car loan and so, as the down turn gets worse, I'm spared the worry of "What if...I lose my source of income?" Being a poor businessman, I'm spared having to worry about paying salaries or most importantly, office rent. It's ironic that my failures for the past few years may mean that I enter a bitter period of history free of allot of worries and I could probably start a new industry - consulting on the joys of being broke

I think the key thing about being broke is the fact that its psychologically damaging. Not being able to do things your friends take for granted is bad for the ego. Having your friends "treat you" all the time sends the message to you that you are a useless worm and so when that message is repeated often enough, you actually start to act like a worm, lying around, hoping for someone to throw you a crumb once in a while.

So what can one do to stop feeling like a worm? I've realised that in my perpetual bouts of poverty, I've been fortunate for two things.

1 - I've avoided placing my self worth in things. In our "buy-more" society, you get the idea that you need certain things to be of any worth. A successful man for example is supposed to be drive a Mercedes and live in landed property. As a guy, you can't help but notice that the guy in Daddy's flash car is the guy who gets the most chicks and if you don't have all those things, you are a worm.

I have my father's father and my mother's mother for showing me that status symbols don't actually make you feel better. My grandfather understood that as long as you had the capacity to love, you were no different from anyone else, even if you had less money. My grandmother happily downgraded her material goods according to her lifestyle needs. To her, life was good as long as she had a roof over her head and enough to eat.

This is not to say that material goods are unworthy. Money should be enjoyed and having beautiful things is enjoyable. However, money and possessions should not dictate ones happiness or self-worth. I remember my father saying that when he suffered a reversal of fortunes and had to sell possessions, I suddenly started enjoying what he had.

2 - I've kept busy. To most school kids being able to sleep in all day and play video games for ever may sound like eternity, but like all good things, if carried to an extreme is exceedingly damaged. If you don't have anything to do, you get the idea that nobody wants you and sooner or later the imagination becomes reality. My father, when he was starting out would make it a point to put on his shoes everyday just to make sure he never feel into the trap of thinking he was trapped at home.

What can you do to stay busy? For most people, getting another job becomes a priority, after all one needs money to survive. However, in a tight job market, the period between jobs becomes longer and employers become very picky about who they pick. So what can you do in between the job interviews?

In Singapore, the government has rightly encouraged people to go for retraining and upgrading. Unlike "the dole" this is not about giving people money to do nothing. It is about helping people to help themselves - we help you if you do something.

My main reservation with this, is the fact that "upgrading" only seems to hit the national agenda in down times. Lifelong learning should be a perpetual habit - when people hit the downturn, they're less likely to go for upgrading and employers are less inclined to give employees time-off for training.

Another possible opportunity for people is to pick up free-lance work. Such jobs don't provide job security and as my father once pointed out - "nobody respects free-lancers." Having said that, when permanent jobs are hard to come by, project work fills gaps in the CV and more importantly your skills get used and you get income - even if it is not what you were used to. I started out because as a friend of mine said,"Why spend resources looking to work for someone when you can get the money directly."

Having said all of that, free-lance jobs are not necessarily more available in downturns. When work is not there, it really is not there. So, you get to creative in what you do. I've become a bit more open to the idea of bartering and I suspect I may be doing more of it in the coming year. Cash is a rare commodity and so if you can provide for your basic needs without having to expand cash, why not? I'm not the only one who barters from time to time. I recently met an accounting firm that barters it's IT requirements - Still - Cash is KING and when certain people like landlords and government services do not accept barter as payment.

My former Commanding Officer, Colonel Toh Boh Kwee used to have a mantra, which became something of a joke - "Nobody owes you a living." We laughed at it when he used to repeat it to us - I guess it was because we lived in the good times - all you had to do was to get a degree and there would be tones of high-paying jobs waiting for you. It's different in a recession. You're forced to be creative if you plan to survive and perhaps grow from the experiences that you have. It's a choice of letting inertia destroy you or liberating yourself from old notions.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Breaking Cycles

Well, it had to happen sooner or later in real life, but the Americans have now elected a man who is a darker shade of pink into the highest office into the land. Since America is the world's "Hyper-Power," the occupant is by default - "The World's Most Powerful Man."

Much is being said about the fact that the new president of a predominantly pink/white nation is predominantly darker than the majority of the population. Allot is being said about the new President being able to deliver the nation from its current economic, political  and social malaise, Barak Obama is probably the most popular incoming President in history in as much as his predessor is the most unpopular outgoing one in history, that its scary. 

So much expectation is being placed on Mr Obama to produce a miracle, you actually have to feel sorry. Like allot of human beings, particularly those who have achieved high office, President Obama is bound to dissapoint and we have to hope that those who placed such high expectations will be able to accept the reality of what the man is actually able to achieve. 

Having said all of that, the signs of President Obama and his adminsitration being able to do something good for the nation that has done so much for the world, are encouraging. Unlike the Bush Administration, President Obama has been quick to offer high profile post to former rivals (Hillary Clinton in the State Department) and COMPETENT (people who could be good on the job rather than buddies). 

More importantly, President Obama has offered a new philosophy to dealing with enemies - he's offering to meet and talk to them unconditionally. Unlike the No-Balls Faggot he succeded, President Obama seems assured that the USA does not want to get trapped in a vicious cycle of violence and hatred with people who are actually very good at being violent and hateful.

It takes balls to try something different. This is particularly true when you're talking about terrorism. Nobody wants to be seen as "Appeasing Terrorism," and "Negotiating with Terrorism," leaves you open to being accused of being a wimp. The common refrain when it comes to terrorist is to beat the living crap out of them - people who are seen to beat up terrorist are seen as tough and manly - which explains why Bush and the neoCONS were so keen to show their manhoods with other people's lives when they kept declaring "WE DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORIST." 

The problem that the guys who never served in the military  understood is the fact that terrorism is not an ideology. There's no job vacancy called "Terrorist." If you look at terrorist organisations, they're held together by an ideology but using techniques that we call terrorist. This is not a defence of terrorism but an obvious fact. - The IRA claimed to do what they did in the name of kicking out the Brits of Ireland (A cause Americans seemed more than willing to support with money). On the other side you had the UDA comitted to keeping Northern Ireland part of the UK (It took the British government a long time to classify the UDA as what they were-terrorist murderers). Likewise you have Hamas, which claims to be fighting for Palestinians. Even Al-Qaeda has an ideology that it fights for.

No matter what you think of such organisations, you cannot just beat them up and hope they go away. Yes, there are times when it is necessary to shoot people in a military fashion - ie if the nut is about to set off some explosives and the only way to stop him is to shoot - then you do it. However, pure military solutions don't work. 

If anything the recent activities in the Middle East prove, is that extreme violence will only encourage extreme violence. Looks at the recent Gaza conflict. Israel blockades the Gaza strip because it says Hamas won't recognise its right to exist. Hamas fires rockets into Israel because the Israeli blockade is suffocating the people. Israel then shells and bombs the entire Gaza strip to stop the rockets. The cycle of violence and hatred not only continues and grows. The Bush Administration proceeded to drag America into this cycle by endorsing Israel's blockade and blatant shelling of Arab nations as the noble form of terrorism. He inadvertantly also confered rock star like status on Hezbollah's Hassan Nazrullah and Hama's Ismail Haniyah by proving that the West regards Arab suffering as a minnor inconvenience. 

Let's hope the Obama Administration is serious about breaking out of this cycle. Imagine President Obama made Israel and Hamas sit down at the negotiating table. Imagine a US President telling Hamas, "You got accept that Israel is here to stay and you're better of working together than killing each other," but at the same time telling Israel, "They've got a democratic mandate and you got to pull back to your 1967 borders (As the Saudi's suggested in 2002 and 2006). 

Even if that happened it would be hard to be put into practice. Extremist on both sides will have to be dealt with. Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel was shot by his own people. Likewise, Yitzahk Rabin, the only Israeli Prime Minister to recognise the Palestinians as human was shot by an Israeli who couldn't accept that Israel had to give up land for peace. But this is still better than what we have today, a situation of never ending violence and hatred. 

James Baker, Secratery of State under Bush I mentioned that it will be necessary for Israel to negotiate with Hamas. There is no way peace between Israel and the Palestinians can be achieved if the party democratically elected by the Palestinians is not recognised as a negotiating partner. Nobody in the USA or Israel will want to be seen to "Negotiate with Terrorist," particularly when the likes of possible Israeli Prime Minister Nethanyahu has a national service record of a transvestite - it would make him appear more unmanly than he actually is. 

But is the current situation better. I'm embarrased to admit it, but Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew publically endorses men with no balls, particularly when he writes for Forbes scolding the unfortunates in Southern Lebanon and the Gaza strip for refusing to be lie down and die in the face of supperior military force invading their homelands. The man celebrates being a eunach - during the US election, he asked Singaporeans - "Ask yourself, is the world safer with a President McCain or a President Obama?"

Thankfully, the rest of the world decided to vote for the young man who had balls to publically suggests that the status quo won't do as opposed to the man with very big balls who decided to cut them off during the election. 

Mr Lee may get turned on by the idea of a world filled with  eunachs - thank goodness the rest of us can ignore him from time to time.   

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Problem with being Brilliant

There's no doubt that Steve Jobs, the Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Apple Inc is a great man. Mr Jobs, along with Bill Gates of Microsoft is one of the pioners of the computing industry, which has been one of the key industries in creating the biggest transformation in how we do things. Mr Job's vision has also extended to the entertainment industry. As well as being a co-founder of Apple, Mr Jobs also founded Pixar Aniamtion, a company that is responsible for bringing technology to life via the movie screen. Most of us can barely make a dent in a corporation, let alone an industry. Mr Jobs by contrast has been been an icononic figure in two - technology and entertainment. 

Mr Job's biography is worthy of a movie. After founding Apple, he was driven out in boardroom struggle. Later on he was brought back to run a collapsing company that had been reduced to producing computers to a handful of geeks. Thanks to Mr Jobs, Apple has now become a producer of "Cool" thanks to innovations like the imac, the ipod and now the iphone. While Apple will never be the behemoth that Microsoft is, it has become hip and sexy. Thanks to Mr Jobs at Apple, technology is no longer the preserve of geeks but a symbol of cool - and it's paying off for Apple Shareholders. Mr Jobs has fans thoughout the world because he's made them very rich. 

It's easy to see why Singapore's planners are desparate to find Singapore's answer to Steve Jobs. In a world where uncertainty is becoming the rule of the day, Singapore's government planners have come to realise that they need brilliant individuals who can bring a host of benefits to society. The last time Singapore had an individual who made it to the pages of time Magazine was Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our current Minister Mentor and founding Prime Minister. 

Like Mr Jobs, Mr Lee was a revolutionary. In an age where large post-colonial states where given to trying to isolate themselves from the global economic system, Mr Lee managed to turn his city-state into a dyanmic trading port by opening up. Mr Lee revolutionised the idea of what type of countries could succeed. - Prior to Mr Lee's activities, the world assumed that you had to be a big country filled with natural resources in order to succeed. Today, larger countries are looking to tinny Singapore for blue print to success. Deng Xiaopeng is said to have told Mr Lee that, "If Only I just had Shanghai to run." 

Messers Jobs and Lee are undoubtedly great men. They've changed people's mindsets and brought prosperity to a good deal of people. However, both of them have failed their legacies and the people who have come to look to them for guidence - they have made themselves indispensable to them. This was shown most clearly when Mr Jobs recently took six-month medical leave because his medical problems were "More Complicated" than he thought they were. Apple Shares tumbled by 10 percent when the news was announced.

Why should shares tumble when a CEO has to take sick leave? The answer is simple, the shareholders are wondering what happens to the company if that CEO was to leave the job. Yes it's personally flattering to be needed but its also failure on the part of the CEO to develop the organisation. Look at McDonalds by comparison. McDonald's has continued to thrive even in circumstances like the sudden death of its CEO. Why has McDonald's been able to do this? McDonald's has succeeded because it has develped a corporate culture that goes beyond an individual and a system to support that culture. By contrast, Apple beyond Mr Jobs doesn't seem to have very much. 

It takes great men to build great things, whether they are countries or companies. However, once the building takes place, its important for the builder to look at life of his creation after him. In the case of McDonald's is has survived Ray Kroc it's founder and countless of CEO's. The USA as a nation has a system that survives Presidents and countless other officials. Apple, it seems has very little to offer without Mr Jobs. Yes, there was the ipod,mac and phone - but all of these are credited to Mr Jobs and his brilliant management. Mr Jobs has made himself so much a part of Apple, it's hard to think of Apple without him. What he's created is not so much a company but a personality cult. Personality cults unlike religions do not survive beyond their founders.   
 
Mr Jobs is undoubtedly brilliant but he has failed to make Apple independent of him and the uncertainty that brings will hurt his legacy. He should have looked at his less flamboyant but more successful rival - Bill Gates of Microsoft. While Mr Jobs became known as the best "Second-Act" CEO around, Mr Gates has slowly but surely spent the last few years distancing himself from Microsoft and concentrated on his foundation. First he relinquished his CEO title to Steve Balmer, then it was the Chairmanship. Mr Gates is moving from being the man who changed the computer industry to being the man who will change the world. Microsoft share price is affected by industry events and market conditions rather than the well being of its leaders. 

As Mr Lee ponders this contribution to Singapore, he could do well to look at the difference between Mr Jobs and Mr Gates. It would serve him and Singapore well if he were to dissapear from the running of Singapore and spend his tremendous energies doing other things that would benefit the nation and perhaps the world. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Do You Fight an Idea?

As events in the Gaza strip unfold, one thing is becoming clear to everyone excpet  Americans - Israel will NEVER achieve a military victory against Hamas or Hezbollah up in Lebanon. The Israeli military, which is regarded by many military analyst as one of the world's finnest both in terms of its training and equipment has devastated its enemy. However, instead of curling up and admiting defeat in the futile excercise of taking on a much stronger neighbour, Qassam Rockets continue to be fired into Israel and contrary to American and Israeli hopes, the Gaza strip is not rushing to punish Hamas for "Provoking" Israel - if anything the IDF is probably responsible for what should be a good year for Hamas's recruitment team. 

Let's leave aside the morality of the conflict and the various emotions that have been raised and focus on the question of how one of the world's best military forces has failed to subdue what is effectively a rag tag group of men with beards, despite the obvious military advantages. The answer the fact that this is a conflict of two different things. Israel the nation state with its powerful military has gone to war against Hamas, which at its core is an ideology that people adopt. Nation states fight conventional wars and have conventional rules. Nation states hope to achieve tangible assets like land or routes to strategic assets. Israel has defined borders (Which it expands contrary to International Law) just like the USA, England or China. 

Ideologies by contrast are intangible and seek to aquire intangible things, namely hearts and minds. As long as an ideology is adapted by someone, it cannot die, though it can admitedly be driven underground and weakened. Ideologies are able to morph and take different forms. Ideologies can shift in ways that nation states cannot. The ideology of "Palestinian  Resistence" (terrorism in Western lexicon) used to be preserve of Yasser Arafat and the PLO. However, when the Fatah Party, which succeeded the PLO was seen to have become ineffectual, the ideology shifted to Hamas. By contrast, nation states can only expand through terratorial expansion, which Israel has done since its establishment in 1948 on several occasions (International law accepts the 1967 borders as legitmate) and migration, which in Israel's case has mainly come from Russia in the past two  decades.  

So when understands the combatants in this way, it's clear that what Israel achieves on the battle field will not lasting effect on the Palestinians in the Gaza strip. Israel and Hamas are fighting for two different things. Israel will undoutedly win the physical confrontation with its supperior firepower but it will be unable to defeat the concept that Hamas stands for - namely Palestinian Resistence. Let's look at other conflicts like Vietnam where the world's mightest power was forced to retreat despite winning every battle of the war. America the nation state lost the ideological battle at home and on the battle field. Then there was the Soviet Invasion of Afganistan, which effectively destroyed the Soviet Union - The nation state called the Soviet Union lost the idea of "Jihad against the Athiest Communist Infidel," - The likes of Osama Bin Ladin adopted this idea and you had Soviets against Mujahidien from Afgahnistan and the rest of the Muslim world (People with zeal for their ideals are dangeously flexible - Osama was quite happy to accept the CIA and the American government funding and training his movement.)  

Ironically, Israel was once an "Idea" or "Ideology," before it was a nation state. Like other ideologies, it was powerful when it had the most passion behind it. The idea of "Israel as a Jewish Homeland," that inspierd the Irgun (Regarded as a terrorist organisation in its day) to drive the occupying British out of what was then called Palestine. The idea of Israel has driven a small nation to defeat larger conventional military forces and allowed people to "Make the desert bloom." After sixty years of struggle, the idea of Israel has finally established itself - so much so that despite the parts in Hamas's charter that refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist, even the most die-hard fanatics in Hamas have publically admited "The REALITY of ISRAEL." 

In light of Israel's own development as a dream, it's such a pitty that Israel has been fighting Hamas as if it were one of the conventional states it once confronted in its early years. Imagine if Israel had chosen recognise Hamas for what it is, an idea. You cannot kill an idea in the physical sense, you have to take it on in other ways. 

What are the options? For starters, let's look at definitions. The ideas that win are usually the best defined. Israel has established itself into a reality from an idea because it had a clearly defined goal - Israel is the "Homeland of the Jewish People," and everything Israel has done has been towards making it a reality. The Palestinians have been less successful in creating definitions. The PLO was a success in getting the Palestinian people global recognition as shown by the signing of the Oslo Accords. It was a failure in creating a viable Palestinian State - there was simply no vision.  

Hamas has proven successful in resisting Israel's occupation and blockades. The more Israel and her Western allies impose blockades and other efforts to cripple Hamas administered Gaza, the stronger Hamas has grown. Hamas, however, needs to become an ideology beyond being a resistence movement if the Palestinians are to achieve peace. - It shold be noted that Hamas won the Palestinian Parliamentry elections in 2006 because they appeared to have a better vision for Palestinian controlled lands - which meant Hamas ran competent administrations unlike Fatah. 

Israel needs to find a way to the ideology that is Hamas. As things stand, it's doing a good job in helping feed Hamas the "Resistence Ideology." Imagine if Israel lifted its blockade on the West Bank and Gaza strip, moved back to its 1967 borders as proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 and 2006. Imagine then if Israeli businessmen invested heavily in Palestine to create a viable neighbouring state - sounds impossible under current tensions, but it would remove the reason why "Resistence Ideology" exist and Hamas and other Palestinian groups would have to redefine themselves. It sounds far fetched - neither side will accept it - but then again it was once improbable that the People's Republic fo China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) would ever have direct flights - though one should note that in this case the conflict of ideology was not between two states or people. The definitions of China were only between the politicians, the business people on both sides saw themselves as a single nation - hence Taiwan and China are economically one country despite the politics. Bad blood between Israel and the Palestinians is felt deeply at the people-to-people level.  

Ultimately global leadership needs to recognise what is what. Recognising the difference between ideologies and physical contstructs like nation states and tactics like terrorism will enable global leaders to tackle the fundimental problems faced by the world. Look at the Bush Administration's failure to recognise what is what. The administration that vowed to wage "War on Terror," has seen the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda remains. Blind support for Israel's military actions in 2006 and 2008 have ensured a generation of people will vowing to destroy what has essentially been a force of good. If so many people were not suffering it might be funny if one could see the way in which people like former President Jimmy Carter are attacked when the point out that ignorance is certainly not bliss. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Back

I am now back in Singapore, the land of swealtering humidity, no mudity but plenty of prostitution and even more con-artist. After the cold winds of Northern Germany the local weather takes a wee bit of adjustment but by and large, it"s good to be back in this little Red Dot. I mean, I already miss the family in Europe and I do notice how the Europeans seem to have found a way to achieve prosperity without sacrificing their sanity, but there are plenty of things I need to do and this happens to be place where I plan to do them - though like most confused thirty-somethings, I'm probably not very sure about what exactly are the things that I have to do. 

Europe, or more acurately Hamburg or even more accurately, Am Karpfentiech 78 was great. My mother, who sells herself as "Mrs Anti-Family," has a field day whenever the family gets together. She grumbles that Tara and I are way too fat for our own good (more me than Tara) but then makes it a point to ensure that we are fed properly - Tara with Asian food and me with good old fashion Northern European cuisine. She even ensures that there's plenty of drinkable red wine and good German beer. She's even added a new hobby, ensuring that her kids are clothed properly. I got a new suite this Christmas from my favourite Gentleman Outfitters - the kind of place where the sales staff know the right size and colour for you just by glancing at you. 

This holiday was, as I've mentioned particularly significant because I managed to have a reunion with Lee, my first stepfather, whom I have not seen for nearly a decade. Lee looks pretty much the same - not as large as I remember him to be but he somehow remains a presence. 

It was also the first time that I got to see Christopher, my mother's youngest as an adult. It took allot of self control on my part to refrain from doing the silly cutesy stuff like attempting to tuck him to bed and jumping on him in the morning. He wouldn't have taken it too kindly, I think but it takes a while to adjust to an adult when you're so used to seeing a little baby. Still, we managed to click - he's a wizz on the computer - think Vincent needs to take him under his wing. 

Still, I have plenty to do in Singapore and it was good to get on the phone again chasing up a few old friends I had not been in touch with. Singapore is one of those wierd places where everyone seems to be related to everyone and life is for the most part about how one makes the most of being related to everyone else. I once remember having to sheepishly admit that I got my Citibank internship through Dad's golfing with the local VP. The reply was - "Don't be embarrased to admit you got your job through your contacts - how do you think we all got hired." In simple terms - being a meritocracy has made contacts all the more valuable in today's job market. As far as every HR recruiter is concerned, everyone who hands in a CV has impecable credentials and more for the job - so the only CV the recruiters read are the ones they are told to read. It is, as my ex-boss used to say, "Not about the best for the job but the person who best sells him or herself for the job."

Self-promotion is, of course going to be on everyone's agenda as jobs and money become even tighter. I wonder if there's even going to be a book on the most outrageous but effective ways that people use to sell themselves in the current and gloomy economic forcast in the months to come.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No Money, Let's Throw It on the Dice

It was minus 12 degrees centigrade today and since this is the coldest weather I've experienced for a while, I thought I'd try to write something intelligent in order to make sure that the brain cells got used today rather than in some fictitious time in the future when cryogenics becames a very valid science.

Despite the chill, I had a pretty good day. Went down to Polike, my favourite gentleman's outfittter in Hamburg and managed to get a decent suit made of light Italian wool. Then it was tea with old neighbour who has over the years become the neighbourhood grandfather.

It's was delightful to see the old man, who is always warm and very generous with his good wishes. However, what struk me about this former family neighbour is the fact that, although he makes very little money, he loves visiting casinos.

Call me a little strange, nay just call me Un-Chinese but for the life of me, I'm still trying to find out the pleasure that people see in throwing away their money. There is, as they alway say, only one rule in gambling - "The House ALWAYS wins." This truism has been proved true wherever you goto in the world, whether you're at the glitziest tables in Monte Carlo or whether you're in the backstreets of Lorong 16.

So why the hell do supposedly sane and rational people spend their time in gambling establishments. I guess there are those who can afford to play in casinos and enjoy them. Fair enough, if you've been to Vegas, the casinos are great fun and if you can afford to lose a bit of money on fun, why not? Likewise with the lottery, if you want to throw away a buck or two, why not?

Then again, allot of people who end up being serious players often do it at great cost to their livlihood and allot of them are also gambling money on credit. I know a gentleman who once had the habit of borrowing money from dubious sources at a mere 20 percent a week so that he could buy lottery tickets. If that sounds daft to you, don't worry, you're not the only person to think so.

Apparently gambling causes a buzz. Winning at gambling is a fantastic feeling. However, anyone who observes games of chances will quickly realises that more often than not, you end up losing more than you win. In fact one has a higher chance of being struck by lightning than one has of winning a prize (a randome prize - not necessarily the sweep stakes) in a lottery. Or put it this way, I've only ever won two prizes in Ad Asia Pub night lucky draws since I started attending Pub Nite in 2004 (About 40 odd lucky draws).

Governments are of course very clever and in recent years governments across the USA and Europe have started running lotteries. The same people who bitch and moan about paying taxes are more than happy to spend the money on the lottery. This is true, even in "Puritanical" Singapore. Government raises GST and we bitch endlessly about how the rise in tax hits the poor the hardest. But then the poor will que up outside Singapore Pools to spend their GST asssistance cheques on the pools.

The latest "Miracle" boost for Singapore's economy is the construction of two casinos or if you want to use the politically correct term - "Integrated Resorts (IR)." The government went ahead to construct the two IRs despite vast opposition from the public. The government continues to peddle a vision of rich foreigners coming to throw away their money at our tables, while keeping out the social evils of gambling by chagring Singaporeans a hefty $100 entry fee into the casino.

It's a nice image, but its not going to work like that. Hopefully for the government, the forigners will come. But then again, forigners with money have plenty of options of where to gamble - Vegas, Atlantic City and Macao have an upper hand when it comes to attracting the high rollers - simply because they've been doing it for much longer.

So guess where a good chunk of the revenue will come from? No prizes, home sweet home. A determined gambler will find ways of paying off the $100 entry fee. After all if you think the roullette wheel can make you a couple of grand, what's a $100 for the night?

You can't blame the government for this. In fact you have to congratulate them for coming up with a means to make people want to give away money that they don't have. We really should find ways for people to volunteer to surrender their money to replace the taxes we hate paying.

Monday, January 05, 2009

No Money

Well, the year 2009 is upon us and I am here in the land of minus teperatures trying to bash out a blog entry that is somewhat intelligent. Being a being of limited intelligence, I suppose I have to stick to a topic that is on everyone elses mind - how the hell am I going to find any money to survive on in the year 2009.

Money, as every talking head pointed out in 2008, is going to become a very scarce comodity. The American consumer, who financed global economic growth for the past century no longer has the capital to buy products the rest of us made nor do they have the capital to repay the loans we gave them to buy the goods we made. At the time of bashing out this blog entry, several big American banks have gone belly-up and the American auto-industry which once dominated is going cap in hand to Washington to ask for a bail out from the American government, which financed by borrowing from China and the Arabian Gulf.

Intellectually, its sorely tempting to tell the Americans to let their banks and auto industry go bankrupt. It's the advice that American and European money men gave to Asia in 1997 - 'bankruptcy good - bailout bad,' was their message. Now that American and Europe are in deepest dog poo, I don't see them applying their own medicine. If the US has no money, the world may even be a safer place. America will no longer have money to fight wars or pay for Israel's and we may actually see a solution in the Middle East.

But I shouldn't join the temptation to gloat because I opperate from a nation that makes its living selling things to America and Europe. Broke Americans and Europeans will mean that there will be less cash floating around tinny little Singapore (I don't see our well paid ministers rushing to spend us out of recession,) and even tinnier me is left with fewer options on how to raise cash.

One option for me could be to start running scams. Since I don't have the anatomy to sell my body, I need to get creative and scam artist, say what you like of them, are inevitably creative people. Futurama did a paradoy of 'scamming aliens' who take over the world and the Nigerians seem to do quite well. I like to think that I am creative enough to run a decent scam.

Unfortunately for me, the market for scam artist is getting a bit crowded and being Asian, I automatically lose out to the con artist from the West who move to Asia and the Arab world. Asians and Arabs love to lose their money to Caucacians - its almost a badge of honour amongst these communities to see who can hand over cash to the guys from the West. OK, let me fair, Caucasians in Asia also get conned by Caucasian con jobs.

So if I cannot run scams, am I stuck with having to make a living honestly? The problem with trying to make an honest living these days is of course, the fact that much of the honest living is honestly dishonest and if you don't have the brains to do something like that, making an honest living could be pretty darn difficult.

Take working in the civil service. OK, I live in Singapore where the civil service is unbribable, in fact its so much so that Singaporeans love to cross the causeway in the hope that they'll be able to bribe a government official. But even if the civil service does not take bribes, is it necessarily a scam-free environment? Sure, the civil service is necessary to the functioning of government. The elected ministers can make all sorts of wonderful plans but without civil servants to carry them out, those plans will be useless. However, do we need so many civil servants? How many of the civil servants in the world actually do something that fulfils and creates an economic value for the rest of us?

Anyway, I am probably just being sour. I rejected being part of the scam oooopppps, I mean civil service when I resigned as a teacher after 3 months. The idea of doing a parents job didn't appeal to me and even though the money was pretty good, I had better things to do with my life. Then of course, in those days I was married to a Gremlin.

So what can I do with myself other than to meditate, look at the stars and thank God that I am free of Gremlins and even though I'm usually broke, I should have problems that most ordinary people have.